“I’m freaking out!” she said. “My heart is in my throat!”
This was a Facebook audio message so I could clearly hear the anxiety in her voice.
I’m receiving a ton of messages, emails, and phone calls like this right now. People who don’t normally experience anxiety are suddenly feeling it. If we could magically diagnose everyone in the United States, would we find that 80% of the population is now experiencing some sort of anxiety disorder? I wouldn’t be surprised.
Meanwhile, those of us who have been battling anxiety for years are struggling too. Although it’s true that we have more experience with anxiety, we’re also facing challenges that we’ve never seen before.
I mean, I’ve successfully battled anxiety for nearly 3 decades, but I still find myself in unknown territory. I’ve never gone through a global, once-in-a-century pandemic either!
So what can we do?
Well, obviously I’m a big believer in the power of qigong. It saved my life, and it has helped thousands of my students all over the world. So it goes without saying that I recommend qigong.
If you haven’t seen my free online qigong course that specifically addresses the issues of COVID-19, then check it out here:
However, there’s something else that you can do, and it might even be more important than practicing qigong. I don’t say that lightly.
What I’m talking about is the single-best antidote to the stress and anxiety that we’re feeling during this crazy time. I’m talking about gratitude, of course, but…
An Attitude of Gratitude?
It’s important that you understand that gratitude is a practice, not just an attitude.
In the free program above, I include a guided meditation on gratitude. I hope you’ll try it to get a feel for what I’m talking about. (Make sure to go through the roadmap. Don’t just skip to the meditation.)
Many people talk about having an “attitude of gratitude.” This rhymes and it sounds good on social media. It’s also a big fat lie.
Over the years, I’ve actually confronted dozens of people who use this phrase, both on social media and in my classes.
What I found was that the vast majority of people who talk about having an attitude of gratitude don’t actually practice. On some level, they sincerely believe in the power of gratitude, but they don’t take any action. They just parrot the phrase.
In Brene Brown’s amazing audiobook The Power of Vulnerability she talks specifically about the difference between having an attitude of gratitude and PRACTICING gratitude, drawing a parallel to a yoga practice:
“I have a yoga attitude. I have yoga clothes. I live in yoga pants actually. I have yoga shoes. Somewhere in my house I think I have a yoga mat. But I do not practice yoga. So if you ask me to do something up here [on stage], how far do you think my attitude of yoga will take me?”
How You Get to Carnegie Hall
I’m the son of 2 professional musicians. I was raised as a classical violinist. I practiced for hours every day long before I was allowed to vote.
I’ve even played in Carnegie Hall. Okay, yes, it was with a youth orchestra, but hey — have YOU played in Carnegie Hall? Well okay then.
(To my music friends who have actually played in Carnegie Hall — don’t you dare mess up my joke here!)
My point is that I know what it’s like to practice deeply. I started with the violin. Later, I put the same perseverance into karate, and then qigong.
If you want to change your life — and you do because life is totally crazy right now — then you have to practice. There’s no way around it.
“Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend.” – Melody Beattie
The good news is that…
- you don’t need to practice gratitude for hours every day
- gratitude practice is enjoyable
- gratitude practice is easy
- gratitude practice shows fast results
Practicing Gratitude Every Day
I recommend that you practice gratitude every day without fail for 30 days.
You can use the guided meditation in my free program to get the hang of it. (Make sure you follow the instructions and go through the program. If you just skip to the guided meditation, it won’t make sense.)
But you can also practice gratitude throughout your day. In fact, now is the PERFECT time to practice gratitude because let’s be honest — you’ve got nothing else to do!
For example, all around the United States, toilet paper is hard to find. This is a perfect time to practice gratitude for the toilet paper that you currently have. Or, if you’re out (yikes!), then boy are you going to feel grateful when you get your hands on some more, right?
Toilet paper is one of those things that we don’t normally notice. We take it for granted. Toilet paper as we know it was invented 1857. Somehow, humans survived without it for eons. (I’m not actually sure how they did it — and I’m not sure I want to know.)
I’m guessing that you’ve never practiced gratitude for toilet paper. Well, there’s no time like the present. Shine some gratitude on the nearest roll!
Here are a few more examples to help you:
- Groceries: Many staple grocery items are hard to find. When they come back in stock, make sure to practice gratitude for them.
- Hunger: Hopefully, most of you are not going hungry during the pandemic. Practice gratitude as you put that first bite of food into your mouth. Savor it. Maybe it’s not the food you prefer — but it’s still food!
- Coffee: If you’re like me and you love coffee, you might take it for granted. Take a moment to imagine this pandemic without coffee. Unimaginable? I agree — which is why I drink my morning coffee mindfully and gratefully.
- Artists: Binge watching “Tiger King” on Netflix? Browsing The Met or MOMA online? Taking advantage of free books? Show some gratitude toward the artists who produced these materials. What would this pandemic be like without them!? Yikes!
- Family: Tensions may be high because of the close quarters. Many families haven’t spent this much time together since…well…ever. And yet, what are we doing all this for if not for friends and family? Underneath the social distancing is a desire for people to be well. Shine some gratitude on your loved ones, whether they’re blood or not.
Practicing gratitude often throughout the day is like taking your medicine. Even during normal, non-pandemic times life can be incredibly stressful. Now things are even worse.
Stress levels are high. I don’t know about you, but I wake up every morning and wonder what kind of crazy news I’m going to find in the paper.
When you experience stress, your nervous system flips into fight-or-flight mode. This is the Sympathetic Nervous System. Cortisol, the stress hormone, is released and your body directs all of its energy (and blood) away from the internal organs and into the muscles and cardiovascular system.
If that’s happening all day long, if you’re never flipping back to the Parasympathetic Nervous System (i.e. rest-and-restore mode), then is it any wonder that your body is a wreck? Your body only heals when it’s in rest-and-restore mode, not during fight-or-flight mode.
Frequent bouts of gratitude flip us back into rest-and-restore mode which in turn gets the healing juices flowing.
The Gratitude Game
Remember when you were a kid on a road trip and played the “I Spy” game? I spy with my little eye something beginning with…
Gratitude works the same way. You’re walking through the road of life and you’re looking for opportunities to practice gratitude all day long.
This applies to the food that you eat, the shelter that you live in, your vehicle, the people you encounter, and whatever else pops up in the present moment.
Can you breathe and take a moment to feel grateful for…whatever that thing is?
The Key to Taming Anxiety with Gratitude
When using gratitude for taming anxiety it’s critical that you actually FEEL grateful.
You don’t just want to think about it; you don’t want this to be in your head. You really want it to be in your body. You want to feel a visceral reaction to this gratitude practice.
It may take some practice to get the hang of it. I speak from experience. I struggled with feeling gratitude in the beginning. I get it. I understand that this can be hard, but you need to keep practicing anyway.
One of the most important things you need to do is tame what we call the Monkey Mind. The Monkey Mind will often pop in and say, “What the hell do I have to be grateful for? Look at all these terrible things in my life! The pandemic is ruining everything!”
You have to be mindful of those thoughts. As you practice gratitude those thoughts will naturally creep in. That’s fine, but you have to convince yourself that no matter what your situation in life might be, you still have things to be grateful for.
If you don’t believe me, read Victor Frankl’s book Man’s Search for Meaning.
Victor Frankl was a prisoner in Auschwitz, the infamous Nazi concentration camp. I strongly suggest that you read the book, but long story short, he talks about maintaining meaning, gratitude, humanity, and compassion — even while in one of the most difficult, austere, and challenging conditions known to man.
People have been in situations worse than yours and still managed to find gratitude. This is good news. It means it’s within your grasp too.
So don’t allow your Monkey Mind to trick you into thinking “Oh, unless I have all these things, I can’t possibly be grateful!”
That’s not how it works. You can find things to be grateful for. Always.[Here’s the link to my free program again: [COVID-19 Support] Learn Qigong Online from Me for Free During the Crisis]
In the end, what we’re really aiming for is to simply be grateful for life itself! This is the most advanced level of gratitude practice.
“You don’t have a life, you are life.” – Eckhart Tolle.
You are alive and you are life! And with practice you can start to feel gratitude for life itself regardless of life’s circumstances.
Even if you’ve run out of toilet paper. From the heart, Sifu Anthony